Review: Top Selections from the Lone Star Film Festival

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The Lone Star Film Festival returned to Fort Worth this weekend with five days of near constant programming for attendees to enjoy. Here are some of my top selections from the festival.

BOOM! A Film About The Sonics 

Just like punk rock, Jordan Albertsen’s documentary about a mostly unknown band from the Pacific Northwest hits hard and loud, keeping you enthralled throughout. On the surface, the film appears to be about how a local band from Tacoma, Washington in the 1960s influenced musicians from Britain today, but a more personal story emerges. The true center of the film is Buck Ormsby, a musician himself who produced The Sonics’ first album and his faith that this band’s sound could capture the world. And he was right. The film’s connection to Ormsby became even more clear in Q&A with Albersten after the screening. Albertsen described that the final push to create an idea that he had been imagining for nearly a decade was his conversations with Ormsby over the years and the signs of his unspoken but clearly declining health. Regardless of your knowledge of the genre or the people being interviewed, what comes through is just pure and honest emotion from all involved that music often conveys.

 

The Sisters Brothers

This minimalist western follows two bounty hunter brothers played by actor/producer John C. Reilly and Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix as the titular Sisters brothers as they track down their former associate John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) and a chemist turn prospector Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed). The world in which the characters live in is one of frequent violence and the film never shys away from it, but it’s the quieter moments of reflection and dialogue between the characters that are the most memorable aspects. There are several scenes where two characters discuss their philosophy next to a campfire under a striking sky. This unexpectedly character driven film has an ending that some might find anticlimactic, where one might only realize what the climax of the film truly was five minutes after it occurred on screen, but it matches the more realistic tone of the film where life doesn’t have the resolution that one expects in a blockbuster. The acting is superb where even the star-studded cast fades away into their western personas and it holds the audience’s attention when the plot occasionally becomes too minimal before catching them again.

 

Don’t Be Nice

A powerful and deeply vulnerable and emotional film, “Don’t Be Nice” follows five young poets from the Bowery Poetry in New York and their two coaches as they train for the national slam poetry competition. Throughout the film, the audience can experience the process of creating a piece of art that both expresses something simultaneously universal and personal while balancing that with what is expected or can sell. That push for constant refinement, for even more personal poems, comes primarily from one of the coaches Lauren Whitehead. The film follows a traditional sports documentary style, something that producer Nikhil Melnechuk spoke about in a Q&A after the screening, with a few exceptions of music video-like renditions of some of the poems used during the competition. Overall, these two styles don’t fully work together but it is the content, imagery and skill in those poems that carry the film. Two of the most powerful performances in the film are the least produced: just the poet revealing their most private selves.